Belfast Telegraph

Alan Green: After Friday, England’s Euro hopes don’t look too good

So England became the first nation, and perhaps they’ll be the only country from these isles, to qualify for the European Championship next summer in Poland and Ukraine: impressed? No, neither was I.

Poor spectacle: Friday’s match can’t have been easy viewing for Fabio Capello as he saw Wayne Rooney being sent off (top) and Montenegro snatch a draw (above) PA

Only this fitful England team could turn ‘a stroll in the park’ against a new nation, with barely 1/100th of the population available to it than Fabio Capello can turn to, into a pitiful ‘hanging on for a point’.

It didn’t feel much like a celebration afterwards, not for the away team, though that might be a blessing in disguise. The excess of flag waving and expectation that precede England’s arrival at all major tournaments, much of it induced by the media, is never couched in reality. Further ‘dampening’ may come next month when Spain are the visitors to Wembley.

I cannot begin to explain the contrast between the two halves in Montenegro except to say that it’s inexcusable.

A third of the way into the game, England were 2-0 up against opponents who appeared more interested in tonight’s game against Switzerland (now meaningless). They’d even left out three players in danger of suspension.

But feebly, England couldn’t close them down. Apart from Joe Hart, I thought the defence was shocking.

Someone needs to explain to me why Rio Ferdinand was left out of the team never mind the squad. I’m sure that Sir Alex Ferguson will go with his strongest available side at Anfield on Saturday (when I return to commentary duties after recovering from an operation) and I’ll be surprised if Ferdinand isn’t in it.

Reports of his demise are exaggerated. Gary Cahill isn’t remotely as good. I think Phil Jones is a better central defender than the Bolton player but the 19-year-old is a work in progress and has much to learn about his primary duties. What was he doing so far upfield when Montenegro scored before half-time and wasn’t he fortunate not to give away a penalty shortly after the interval?

In midfield, Scott Parker and Gareth Barry were solid but uninventive: they wouldn’t remotely intimidate better opposition.

Further forward, yes Theo Walcott crossed well for the opening goal but do you remember him doing anything remotely as good thereafter? It cannot be a coincidence that the Arsenal player didn’t complete ’90 minutes’ in any of England’s qualifiers.

Darren Bent scored for the fourth consecutive time away from home for his country but it was a chance that you or I would have taken too.

The Villa striker was annoyingly and continually caught offside. I remain unconvinced about his ability at international level; he, too, was substituted.

I thought Ashley Young was England’s best player: Wayne Rooney ‘excused’ himself from that tag because of what he did in the second half.

Capello has other better players to turn to before the summer. Steven Gerrard will be back, Jack Wilshere is an enormous talent and I’d certainly look at Kyle Walker at right-back and Danny Wellbeck, again, up front. Potentially, there’s a really good side, but European Champions... not likely.

Belfast Telegraph


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